Last Thursday (Aug. 12th) Gaston County Public Health Director Steve Eaton issued a news release detailing the growth of pediatric cases of COVID-19. Eaton said the county had approximately 200 children who had tested positive during the previous ten days. Eaton's press release asked and answered the question:
What impact does masking have on quarantine recommendations?
- If a positive child is masked, contacts who are masked do not have to quarantine but should monitor symptoms and should they become symptomatic, stay home and get tested.
- If a positive child is masked, contacts who are unmasked must quarantine for 14 days.
- If a positive child is unmasked, all contacts must quarantine for 14 days regardless of whether or not they were masked.
- If a contact is vaccinated, they do not have to quarantine unless they develop symptoms. Then they should stay home and get tested.
- A close contact is someone who was within 6 feet of an infected individual for more than 15 minutes.
On Monday (Aug. 16th), Eaton spoke to the Gaston County Board of Education, who had voted unanimously in July to make masks optional for students and employees.
Following his presentation, Lee Dedmon made the motion seconded by Dot Guthrie and the board voted 6-3 to require masks for students, teachers and other staff through September 20th.
School begins for students on Monday (Aug. 23rd) in Gaston, Lincoln, Catawba and Cleveland counties.
On Friday, Governor Roy Cooper, NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen and State Health Director Dr. Betsey Tilson sent a letter to school boards who had adopted a 'masks optional' policy urging them to reconsider.
Until Gaston's reversal on Monday, all area school boards had adopted a 'masks optional' policy. Lincoln County first made the decision in late June, well before the current surge in delta variant cases. Catawba and Cleveland County boards made their decision in late July.
The Lincoln County Board discussed masks again at a special called meeting Aug. 3rd and at their regular monthly meeting last Tuesday (Aug. 10th). Video of both those meetings is still viewable on the Lincoln County Schools YouTube channel.
August 3rd special called meeting
August 10th regular monthly meeting
Following Tuesday's meeting, a parent whose child attends St. James School emailed the Lincoln Herald sharing an email she had sent to school board members, Supt. Dr. Aaron Allen, and Health Director Davin Madden. In it she said, "Even if my kid is wearing a mask...if the positive person is not wearing a mask.....my kid STILL has to quarantine. BOTH parties have to be wearing a mask. So once again.....my under 12 year child is at the mercy of others to keep them safe. My sister in law is a teacher at Rocky River in Mooresville. ALL of the positive cases in the first week were unmasked. I keep hearing about choice, and all I hear is that those of us that are choosing to follow CDC, State, and Pediatrician (my own) in Lincoln County are going to be penalized and put into jeopardy."
She asked several questions, and we forwarded her email to Dr. Allen for a response. On Friday (Aug. 13th) he replied with the following answers:
[Note: Rusty Saine is Lincoln County Schools' Chief of Accountability & Student Information. It was he who presented the COVID-19 Protocol adopted by a 4-3 vote of the board at the Aug. 3rd meeting.]
1. Elementary-Please continue lunch in classroom
Principals will have the opportunity to allow students to eat in the cafeteria based on the size of the classrooms and cafeteria space available. Pulling back and eating in the classrooms could be a layered approach if schools have to respond differently based on data from our Health Department.
2. No visitors
At this time, visitors will be allowed in the building beyond the front office. At this time, parents may eat with their child in the cafeteria at a separate table as in years past. Spectators are allowed to be present at games indoors and outside for athletic events.
3. Air purification...which we understand Davin is also a proponent of....but they would rather talk spending $4mm on artifiical turf.
Lincoln Co Schools is using part of the ESSERS funds from the federal government to replace air systems in 4 schools that are due to be replaced. These have been discussed at previous BOE meetings over the summer.
4. What are the defined layers for escalation when there is an issue?
Based on masks being optional (per the June 29, 2021 BOE decision), layers of mitigation include (in no particular order): masking for a period of time, limiting visitors indoors, restricting water fountain use, limiting or restricting field trips and/or extracurricular activities, virtual opportunities for parent and staff meetings, quarantining classes/grade levels/schools based on the Health Dept metrics, and other possible ideas as the situation presents itself at each individual school.
5. Bullying over masks....we all know it will happen. What is their plan?
LCS has a no bullying policy and all cases of such will be handled per our policy 1510/4200/7270
Are non-masked students now going to be quarantined if exposed?
All students will be quarantined at the direction of the health dept, including masked and unmasked individuals as needed.
What if a positive case at home?
Positive students will be quarantined no matter the location. These need to be reported to the school nurse.
Already addressed this and the remaining.
Bullying? This is happening NOW in our community. Happened to my 8 year old last night who was wearing a mask at an activity.
Lincoln Charter School began classes last Wednesday (Aug. 11th), also masks optional. We spoke with Administator Jonathan Bryant on Monday (Aug. 16th). Lincoln Charter had one positive case on the first day of school, but so far, things have gone well according to Bryant. "We'fe had a handful of positives, and four third-graders had to quarantine after one tested positive." But Bryant said social media rumors are much overblown.
The Gaston County decision is effective until September 20th because that's the next meeting of the Gaston County school board. The matter could be considered again at that meeting, but until it is, the mask mandate is now in effect and masks will be required when school starts Monday.